If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky enough.

When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

It's not all about running...

I often say lately that I still train for trail ultras while living in not very inspiring (for me, personally) place to just "up and go run" for many reasons, one of which is so when I "grow up", I could be fit enough to do a lot of serious hiking and backpacking.

Our past little 1 week vacation was a great test to it, and a great prove it works, and we do, indeed both totally love it. (we both came to trail ultras with a background of mountaineering and backpacking and hiking prior, as a natural development). Our finest example for the future is a 74 year old man we met in 2010 while scaling a top of one of the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe, and he mentioned he does it 3-4 times a week. Wow, for sure.

We flew to Sal Lake City early Friday morning with the intention to hit the Wasatch trails as soon as we land and get a car, like, by 11 am. And here where it went wrong...my bag was missing on a baggage claim. Now, I never check in bags! But we had a pretty huge one for the camping stuff, and since we flew SouthWest and they have 2 bags free policy, we figured might as well. The big bag came, Larry's bag came...and mine was nowhere to be found. What was even worse, it was nowhere to be detected! Because apparently, those barcodes the airlines paste all over your luggage - nobody scans them anywhere with SouthWest! Like, you know, did it leave Austin, did it get stuck in mid-way airport (even though we had a long connection), did it walk away with someone at some point? No information! The lady filed the form and assured us it'll be on the next flight from Denver arriving in 3 hrs. What to do now? She tried to offer to deliver it to a trailhead (um, would they hike up indefinitely to find us on a trail as well? No? You think we just sit by a trailhead?), but we chose to come back...in a meantime totally killing those 3 hrs doing nothing (like, driving God knows where to eat lunch, then visiting State Capitol and Mormon Church).

So, we are back at the airport...and the bag is not on a rotating belt! I burst in total sobbing. Nobody still knows WHERE in the world the bag is, and no promises are made anymore. All my worldly possessions - ALL my running clothes I carefully collected and chose and loved - were gone. Not only I can not begin my vacation, replacing those would be a great deal of money - and personal attachments. The lady tried to offer me directions to Dick's Sporting Goods and a $50 voucher...hmm, Dicks? $50? That's like, 1 pair of shorts I own, and those are not from Dicks! And I had 7 pairs in my bag, you know, for a 7-day trip? Plus 7 of everything else? And some gear I was to test and write reviews on?

I needed to get out of there, I needed to be on trails. So, I turned around, and drove, with Larry, still sobbing loudly, to a Cottonwood trailhead, got into Larry's shorts, and wearing a regular top and my comfy shoes (Merrell Road Barefoot, it's in the name...), up we went.

And soon after, between the amazing beauty and the steepness of the terrain, my heart calmed down, and my tears dried up. Nature, indeed, has an amazing effect. It all didn't matter - not THAT much anymore, anyway. We hiked and ran, quietly at first, then with talking, then even with smiles. And 7 miles on the most ridiculously difficult Wasatch trail later, we got back in a different state of mind.

The phone bared a message that the bag arrived and that it was a "human error" - someone couldn't read SLC and sent it to SJC (San Jose) and miraculously it was discovered (without scanning?) and managed to be sent the right way. We made another trip to the airport to pick up my beloved shorts (and tops, and shoes, and socks, and ...you got the idea) and finally crashed at Mindy and Jared's incredible house for a dinner and a night in. There was a great chat and we loved - LOVED - spending time with these two amazing folks, just back from Spain, where Jared killed their Skyline 100M race in some 36 hrs (3 weeks prior to his Hardrock run). Thank you! People like them, along with great outdoors and mountain air, are re-charging, for sure.
Ice-cream and Moonshine on the porch!
For the next day, on our way to Jackson, WY, Jared sent us to check out a hidden gem - Wind River Canyon, and in this case, a Sandy Lake area. Jared swore it was only less than 4 hr drive, even with 15 M on a dirt road...well, over 5 hrs and 40 miles at the speed of a snail and promising to turn around and tell him a few words (you gotta understand, it's like comparing a distance talked about by a couch potato and an ultrarunner: 20 miles? Either can't fathom it, or piece of cake), we finally arrived, and, again, it was all worth the hassle...
First 6 miles of rather small bumps on a precious soft single track!

Testing UD packs: SJ and PB.

Got some legs stretched out there too!

The wild flowers were WILD!

Big Sandy Lake.
As we approached Big Sandy, the sky got dark. We broke the important rule of the mountains - out of there by 1 pm. Well, it was almost 3 pm by then, and the thunder and lightening began in its earnest. We made a decision to move on forward - don't ask. The first hail was waited out under a big pine tree, the second bout - under a leaning rock. Luckily, at least one of us packed well just in case - Larry had a windbreaker, so he could give me his short-sleeve shirt, which provided some more than my tank-top coverage for me.

After a couple of sit-outs and some short-distance moves, we saw some sunshine and moved forward, onto rocks and up. I am easily falling into hypothermia, and my hands stayed numb for the rest of the trip. But the views were beautiful, and we made it to the second lake hidden in a hole between the mountains. We decided against the next pitch - it was getting far rockier and slower going, and we still had a drive to make, to Jackson, WY. This Wind River area is certainly a hidden paradise that you need to work hard to get to see the beauty of (which includes 40 miles of wash-board dirt road at 10mph).

Of course, once the views were behind, it hit us: this is Western States 100 Saturday! When cut out of civilization and exploring great places, you forget things, even if they are something you followed one way or another for 13 years...so, as soon as we begun to get some cell service signal, I was frantically sending messages to all I know with questions about friends. And all our friends were rocking it! Arriving in Lori and Chris' place in Jackson, we were honestly glued to the computer until midnight, all of us, interspersing it with some news exchanges - we didn't see each other for a bit over a year (since last Pocatello 50). But, there was more fun awaiting, and once most folks we cared for crossed the finish line, we retired to bed - for a new day of fun.

Our first day in Jackson area included totally new place: a scaling of 10,000+ Jackson peak overlooking Grand Teton picture-perfect views. Wow! Both Larry and I had been to Tetons numerous times, in our "past" lives, both hiking and backpacking, but this was an angle neither had seen. And spending a day with awesome people we love was a bonus like no other.

On a way down the boys left us to gossip and share all the girls need to share - thank you, Lori, for a good ear and an understanding and hugs and simply time together. I so wish we could be closer. I miss having girlfriends here, I miss Lori - whom I've met when she crossed a line of her first 100M race at Grand Teton 100 in September 2007...and just like that, we clicked. You know how it happens...but I digress...

Photoalbum to first 3 days of fun.

It was time to get ready for some Backcountry! Our plan called for a 3-day 2-night backpacking trip into the back side of Tetons, and Larry had strung together a loop of some almost 50 miles. Luckily (or not so much, but really, a good thing) Lori agreed to drive us to a trailhead some miles away from where we dropped the car so we could cut off the first 5-7 flat miles. That was extremely helpful!

We had our packs very light, our bear can for food storage, our bear spray strapped, and hearing a snow condition, our ice axes (provided by Chris and Lori) strapped. Here we go!

The beginning of the journey, String Lake trailhead, Monday, July 1st, 7 am.
Everybody keeps commenting what an awesome shot it is, like a wall paper - but really, there was nothing we could do wrong with this photograph. Lately I see many use various programs to enhance pictures in one way or another, add color, make edges...and I question: WHY? Why do anything if all you need to do is just look up and snap a shot?! Nature provides with magnificent snaps as they are...
Lots of "Ah" and "Oh" and "Wow" on the way in Paintbrush Canyon...not many stops, as the first day was the longest, we were adjusting to carry a load, it included over 5,000 feet of elevation gain, all at altitude, and we knew snow pass crossing is ahead.
Holly lake required some route finding to, and surely after, but it reminded of my hike there with Stephen in the same 4th of July week with Stephen back in 2006...he set on the same rock too. He was 10 years old then:)
And this is where the fun begun! The approach to the Paintbrush pass was totally not melted (although snow was rather soft at that time of the day). The "real" route had a huge cornice hanging over, so those going down the Pass were taking a glissading path to the left, and those going up had to stick with about 60-70% steep sharp but shorter climb where ice axes were not only a good addition, but totally necessary. And sliding down was not an option...Larry, being behind, kept yelling me to be careful. I, walking ahead and looking up, didn't find it that bad, but I would NOT want to go down that path!

We made it, and regrouped with a couple of guys who actually took a video of us (where are you, boys?).
And on the other side - WOW - a totally different perspective of Tetons! The valley beneath, the back of the mountains in front...grande, amazing, huge and so significant...The descend was pretty steep and had longish snow fields in the first (upper) part of it, and we still used ice axes for balance in our trail running shoes on the snow. There was an incident where I mis-stepped and slid down, and it took me a split second to realize I am actually going down, it's not a joke, and I better do something. It took me another split second to self-arrest, with memories of my other, first, and very unsuccessful try at that technique back in 2007, when I attempted to climb North side of Mt. Hood. At least this time it was in a correct sequence and I hung on, pulled up and got back on a trail. Had a little bit of adrenaline rush...
We got down to Lake Solitude, where Larry completely bonked under the blasting sun, and I fed him some snacks, which rebounded us both, and we made our way out of the canyon onto North Cascade canyon trails, dodging day hikers and those who camped on this side of Cascade canyon.
We still had miles to go...to the South side of the Cascade canyon, where mid-way we landed in the most perfect campsite!
The silence and the magnitude of where we were, along with a great dinner and some stretching of painful shoulders, provided relief, and we got to our sleeping bags before sun even got down to the horizon...
The next day, up before dawn, breakfast down, packed and ready to go by 6:30 am, we were on our approach to Hurricane Pass, which was by far much milder condition-wise than Paintbrush pass, as we got over it fast and easy, following the trail and making sure those behind us stop taking cut-offs.
The early rising gave us an opportunity to meet sun rising over Grand Teton, and this is something you never forget.
The Alaska basin included a brief visit to Sunset lake, a lot of snow, very wet feet, making more correct route establishing, a high creek crossing, and a pitch over another pass.
We saw plnety of people in and around Alaska basin, and every one of them was surprised how lightly we packed and how fast we were moving. It pays to be in Ultrarunning shape! Yeah! By second day our shoulders adjusted to the load of packs, the altitude felt better, and we were almost sprinting in hiking terms! Once we realize how fast we're going and how soon we'll be at our official camping destination - we tried as could to slow down, but after that last Pass, Death Canyon Shelf wasn't he most exciting place to go slow, the views spoiled us from yesterday and the morning of today, and the sun was baking, so we kept the pace, though we stopped numerous times to provide information to those hiking towards us.
Since it was 1 pm when our designated campground was passed and behind, Larry looked at the map, located Jedediah Smith Wilderness (which allowed camping anywhere without a Permit) within a couple of miles or less, we got there, set some stuff up, and went for a run - to a stunning Marion lake! What a gift of time and place we had!
And yet another morning, there we were, meeting sunrise on a trail...What a life! Is there anything can be better than that? I am so-o-o a morning/sunrise person! Sunsets are cute, but do much less to my soul than sunrises:)

We even broke into running with our full packs on! Thankfully, it was downhill first few miles on a Dath Canyon trail, and then the rest of trip was pretty much in deep woods, through fields and fields of wild flowers, on a single track, crossing small creeks, then dropping on steep rocky descend, after which we had a privilege to see a moose, and, literally, 15 minutes later, 2 bears scattering on rocks a few hundred yards away on a hill...
Our last stop was at Phelps lake, and I broke down in tears - I didn't want to go back out into a real life, where obligations, people, jobs, problems, phone calls, computers, arguments and no views prevail daily. It was sad, it was only 11 am (who in the world hikes so fast??!!) and we were done...

Next time we got to plan more miles per day, honey! I could totally see myself as a backpacker, getting stronger and "inside myself" as I go, day after day...and some sections of AT, CT and PCT in our future, as well as TRT, JM and many, many more...And what a gift to see it all! And yes, that's why I train in hot and humid Texas summer, running on roads and squatting at the gym...but lets get back to the story...
Grand Teton backcountry adventure.

We celebrated 4th of July in Jackson on what happened to be the steepest trail in the front range of Tetons - after first 1.6 flat miles, next 2.4M gained 3,000 feet, over roots on a narrow path, then over granite, over rock formations, and it lead us to Hanging Canyon and into the paradise of two lakes, one after another, where we took an extended break and ate a bunch of candy. No cheeseburgers or beer needed! On the way down, which we picked a bit differently, we had to slide alongside the bustling creek, before re-joining the trail, and we finish our celebration with a humongous plate of nachos and some berry margaritas. Yes, it's not Paleo, and yes, I began paying for eating those before I even finished with my portion, and no, I do not feel guilty at all! Larry, on the other hand, broke into shivering, ran a fever for 4 hrs, slept through some serious heat exhaustion later that day as a cumulative effect of high altitude, heat exposure, dehydration and some miles we put in. But, by the time Fireworks hit the town of Jackson, we were all well and outside enjoying them!

The last morning we made a quick 6 mile trip up the single track practically out of the door steps to the top of Snow King mountain snow lift, and then busted down to awake the quads. It's a dream of ours to live next to a mountain trailhead...and for now, we'll keep on dreaming.

Pictures of our last 2 days near Jackson.

And that was that. We slowly made our way back to SLC, with a stop at Park City, checking out the town, a little bit of trails, the Olympic center...spent a night at Mindy and Jared, again (thank you!), where my honey dusted off his skills and played some piano (which impressed me immensely), and next morning we were on the flight home.
We came to a package of goodies from the companies that stepped in to partner up with my running experiences, suddenly remembered there is a running club's HCTR picnic going on, made it there to see all the great people of Austin and spent time chatting and eating, and then finally rolled into normal life: cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking and house projects. Back to work, like nothing even happened...This weekend I am volunteering at one of the night races of Tejas Trails, and it's time to put some running in myself, as I just booked the tickets for Grindstone 100M and Hellgate 100km (thankfully, I have enough miles and points to get both of them for free!).

Goodies from VFuel and BRL Sports.

Meghan Hick's article in Marathon&Beyond mentioned our names:)
HCTR picnic.

Trailrunnermag.com picked my blog post as an editor's choice.


Ronda said...

Awesome trip Olga! I can't wait for the day that Bill can ditch the phone, conferences and such for a solid week of bliss. Soon, very soon. That's some amazing country.

Sarah said...

Amazing! The pictures are beautiful. Looks like you have replenished the fuel to keep the fires burning under your dreams!

Interested in your review of the UD pack. Originally didn't think I'd like the bottle placement but now I'm not so sure.

Danni said...

"I didn't want to go back out into a real life, where obligations, people, jobs, problems, phone calls, computers, arguments and no views prevail daily."

I feel that way all the time but then you have your next adventure.

ultrarunnergirl said...

Wow, such beauty! Glad Nature got your mind off the lost luggage. Sounds like a truly wonderful vacation.

Unknown said...

Sounds like you guys had an amazing time. Thanks for sharing!

Olga said...

Danni, it's just in my case that next adventure comes after va lo-o-ng break and wait!!!

JohnF said...

Great Pictures. You have added some trails to my must see list.

Unknown said...

Great pictures and wonderful adventure! I want to go check out these places now too.

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